Howdy, folks. I’m sure many of you grew up playing Sega Genesis, Gameboys, and early Play Stations/Xboxes. For the rest of you older folks out there, did you play with jacks and balls outside of your one-room school house before going home to work on the farm awaiting your mother’s call of “suppertime?” I’m only kidding, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about in this article’s headline, don’t worry — I’ll explain.
Anyway, I grew up in the late 2000s and early 2010s. I had an Xbox 360 that I didn’t use too often. When I did, it was strictly to drive around in GTA and Forza Horizon “normally” as my friends would say. Yes, I was that kid. I would follow traffic laws as people were shooting missiles next to me or destroying every breakable street lamp. One day, when I was in middle school, my dad came home with “Driver San Francisco.” I immediately fell in love. For those unfamiliar with it, “Driver San Francisco” is a 2011 Ubisoft game that entails, well, driving around San Francisco. It is my absolute all-time favorite video game. The story behind the game places you in the mind of the main character, Tanner, as Ubisoft writes:
With crime lord Charles Jericho now on the loose, San Francisco faces a terrible threat. Only one man can stand against him. He has driven the streets of a hundred cities and spent his whole life putting criminals behind bars. But to take Jericho down, there can be no turning back, and he knows that this may very well be his last ride. His name is John Tanner. He is the DRIVER.
Tanner can “Shift” into any car he wants, which includes all of the civilian vehicles driving around. There are some good ones; do let me share my favorites.
Lincoln Town Car
That’s right, you could hop into a Lincoln Town Car and drive around San Francisco. If it was New York City, you could slap a TL&C on it and pretend you were a limousine driver. Switching to first person, Tanner would use the column shifter to switch gears. Now that’s cool!
Dodge Grand Caravan
A minivan in a driving game! A Dodge Grand Caravan nonetheless, not even its nicer twin, the Town and Country. It wasn’t even a fully-loaded model either, which always made me laugh. The inside had three rows of seating and of course, the mid-2000s sea of Dodge plastic.
Aston Martin Cygnet
Perhaps the most shocking car of all was the inclusion of the Aston Martin Cygnet. If you’re unfamiliar with the Cygnet, it was a rebadged Toyota/Scion IQ intended to help Aston Martin comply with emission standards enforced by the 2012 EU. This was not even a car sold in the United States, yet you could whip it around the streets of San Francisco in this game. That’s awesome.
There’s also a Delorean, Ford Crown Victoria, and Chevy Volt. I can go on and on naming cars, but feel free to check out the list for yourself.
Why was it so shocking that these “normal” cars were included in a video game? Well, it has to do with licensing. Driver San Francisco had to obtain licensing, of course for all the vehicles featured in the game. However, is there something problematic about having the ability to literally destroy a minivan, with realistic crash graphics, in a game meant for teens? That’s open for interpretation.
Additionally, it is speculated that Ubisoft has run into some licensing troubles within the last few years in keeping Driver San Francisco available. Ubisoft quietly delisted online copies on December 9, 2016. Physical copies are not, and were not, sold both presently and at that time. They appear to be trying to wipe the planet of the greatest driving game of all time. The most shocking part? There’s more of us out there who seem to worship the game. There’s actually an online petition on change.org begging Ubisoft to re-list Driver San Francisco and it has nearly 200,000 signatures. That’s insane!
I hope that Ubisoft puts it back onto the online market. Thankfully, I have a digital and disc copy of it somewhere in my basement. Go give that petition a sign to save the greatest game of all time! Keep your copies. You might feel the sudden urge to drive around San Francisco in a Dodge Neon at a given moment.
Rob, I haven’t played videogames since the days of arcade tokens at the Nanuet Mall, where Wizard of Wor and Berzerk were my faves. Despite this, I found your story to be interesting and enjoyable, and the fact that you can choose from so many regular cars is the ONLY thing that would make this appealing to me (plus, I’ve lived in SF for a bit). After all, I WOULD like to own (or at least drive) both a Cygnet AND a Town Car, but probably won’t get the chance in real life. 😉
HEY! There were multiple rooms in that schoolhouse, good sir!
God do I love this game. There’s a dedicated community I’m in called Driver Madness that’s keeping this gem alive. And articles like this really help matters!
My city’s libraries still have 3 copies, I think I’ll go pick one up.
I’m a little late coming to this article, but thank you for the great tribute to a great game. I know it was inspired by movies like The Driver (duh), but to me it felt like the closest thing to the original Gone in 60 Seconds that any video game has come. Right down to the over-the-top 70s swagger (even though it was set in then-modern times).
I spent a ridiculous amount of time in Cinematic Mode, wherein you first drive a short course and do whatever mayhem you want, and then you go back and edit it into a mini-movie by choosing the camera positions, crank speed, etc. This was especially fun if you were able to record crazy physics errors during the drive.
Someday I still unironically want a Cygnet, assuming I can get it successfully imported under the “substanially similar” label.
There’s a guy who was able to buy a digital key with a Subway card on Youtube from a website that listed a few downloads available. Beyond that, I would torrent it. Why? If Ubisoft doesn’t want the money, then screw em.
It’s mind boggling how gaming companies leave money on the table…. particularly Driver in this case…. with 200,000 signatures? That’s millions of dollars right there!
If a relatively obscure (wait for the comparison) game has this many people wanting to buy a new copy (including me), why can’t Nintendo, Game Freak, & The Pokémon Company can’t re-release some old Pokémon games.
Could you imagine the haul they’d get for Heart Gold/Soul Silver alone?!
Sorry for some pocket monster’s rant. That’s been making me annoyed for years!
it sucks but it’s mainly from a standpoint of having to provide support for it and licensing
Sadly there are numerous reasons this absolutely iconic game may never return to sales. The number one reason I’d guess is to do with the licenced cars featured in the game, as I believe they may no longer hold a licence to use them, thus cannot distribute the game with the cars in it. This also happens a lot with music, however it’s easier to slip a track out of the game without anyone noticing.
I believe this to also be a likely reason why the golden era Gran Turismos will never be released as remasters.
It’s one of my favorite video games! The graphics are impressive, even for today. The sounds are amazing, too. Tanner’s Challenger has a badass idle sound. I really wish that it had some form of vehicle customization, or at least color selection. I just use a trainer mod to select vehicle color.
I always liked the 07 Impala because when this game first came out, my grandmother owned a nearly identical Impala and I think that was the first time that any car someone in my immediate family owned was drivable in a video game.
It’s a shame that licensing made this game legally unavailable on PC. Luckily it’s one of the easiest games to *cough cough* acquire partly in thanks to the hype that Nick Robinson’s video generated for it.
True that! And the Impala had that baby blue color. Perfect old person spec
I only heard about this game in an YouTube video (from a guy called Nick Robinson) arguing that this is the only example of a “second-person game”, in one of the missions in which the POV is with an NPC that can see your car while you drive it.
It is a shame that IP rights can prevent this game from ever being sold again. Maybe they could release a version where every car has a fake nose/moustache mask and call it a day?
It might, but Sony paid to get every license for the cars on the original GT to have it on their mini console, so if companies are motivated, I’m sure they’ll find some way!
For those of us even older, the game series itself (this one and Parkndl’s Driver: You are the Wheelman) are actually both inspired by a fantastic car-adjacent neo-noir flick, “The Driver.”
1978 (IIRC) Walter Hill movie that’s basically a modern-day western. Ryan O’Neal plays the Tanner role in a movie that’s mostly car chases in normal boring cars.
It oozes cool style (nobody in the movie is ever named, they all just have descriptions…”the driver”, “the detective”, etc.) and is a Tarantino favorite.
“Gonna catch the cowboy who’s never been caught”
I loved that game too! I’m quite a bit older than you, as it came out when I was in college. Tanner’s ability to “shift” his consciousness into other people was a unique trick (although if this were a movie, a cheesy plot device). The car list was very cool, except for the almost total lack of Japanese cars, which seemed odd to me for a game set in San Francisco. The only ones included were the Nissan 370Z, GTR, and R33 Skyline GTR, and that one was an LHD model that I don’t think ever existed in real life!
You’re right, there were no factory LHD R33s. Also as I learned a few minutes ago while replaying the game, if you knock the hood off of the R33 there’s a blurry picture of an RB25 under there. That isn’t even the right engine for a GT-R. Sounds like someone got a fast one pulled on them and ended up with a GTS25-T dressed up to look like a GT-R
I was (still am, I guess) a huge fan of the precursor to that game. It’s called “Driver: You Are The Wheelman.”
I played it on PC, and there was a downloadable hack program called the Driver Mission Configurator where you could go in and choose any car you wanted and just cruise around in Take A Ride mode. It also had a cinematic mode where you could record your drive and create a video of it with custom camera angles and zoom and all kinds of tricks. I spent HOURS on that game.
Still have the discs in the basement. If only I could find a computer that ran W95/98…
Me too! I actually found the discs in my office draw the other week, and wished the exact same thing as you.
That game was badass! There was one mission with nitroglycerin that was super obnoxious tho.
Semi-aged computer nerd – pop the discs in and try on a modern Windows PC! Right click the executable “.exe” (or whatever setup), go to Properties – one of the top tabs will be “Compatability”. Go there and select “Windows 98” or whatever from dropdown, and it will try to run it properly.
tldr: Compatability Mode is your friend
I do that with MechWarrior 3. Another Win98 classic
Depending on the game (and your current computer) you could try an PC emulator that runs Win95 – it is not the easiest thing to get them running, but it is doable. However, try compatibility mode first. Also, check for a custom port of your favourite old came on the Internet, because odds are that someone better at coding also loved any given game, and hacked it into a functional state 🙂
Run it in a virtual machine! Get VMWare Player (free) and a windows 98 disc to set it up, then go wild.
I second a VM. I use VirtualBox to run all my old Windows versions so I can play all my 90’s PC game discs. Couldn’t believe how easy they are to setup and use.